On November 24th, 2017, I became the first person in history to have walked the length of the US-Mexico border.
In the fall of 2014, I resigned a two-decade position with Auburn University, took leave of my family, and walked the length of the Texas-Mexico border. I started that trek October 27th, 2014 from International Mile Marker #1 in El Paso, Texas, walking south and east, taking the road or trail that was closest to the Rio Grande River. Seven weeks and 1,010 miles later, I hit Boca Chica Beach and the Gulf of Mexico - on December 21st, 2014. To cover this distance in this amount of time, I averaged a little better than 23 miles a day, carrying a pack, and walking seven days a week.
This 1,010-mile hike was recorded by Rex Jones with the Southern Documentary Project. The resulting film, La Frontera, played on PBS stations from Florida to California. During the hike, I was featured on the front page of virtually every newspaper from Laredo to Brownsville. I was interviewed by affiliates from NBC, CBS, ABC, and Telemundo. I continued to receive attention from the media with coverage in the Associated Press, Vice, and the Houston Chronicle.
On March 4th, my second book came off the press. Border Walk is a first-person narrative that describes my trek along the Texas-Mexico Border, including encounters with: undocumented immigrants, drug runners, the US Border Patrol, Texas State Patrol, deputy sheriffs, and an unforgiving terrain that consumes immigrants by the score.
The following is an excerpt from Border Walk:
Yet another Border Patrol agent stopped in front of us. A middle-aged white guy with captain’s bars on his lapel exited the vehicle and approached, asking, “Do you know where you are?” Unspoken, but implied in his tone, Dumbasses.
Mike and I laughed, but he wouldn’t have it.
“We just had an oil and gas employee and an electrical contractor assaulted out here. This is a very active area.” The radio went off in his truck. “Excuse me, they’re calling.” He walked back to his truck.
Mike and I looked at each other. I said, “We aren’t camping here tonight.”
The captain returned and pointed down the road. “The pavement ends and past that is no-man’s land. You won’t have a signal. We can’t even use our radios out there. If you get in trouble, you can’t call for help. We find an average of fourteen bodies a year down here, and we save countless more. Sometimes their kidneys are shutting down, but we save most of them. The middle of Old Mines is between our sectors. We pretty much don’t go there, and you need to be aware of the situation.”
Any thoughts of Old Mines not living up to its reputation dissipated.
Asphalt became dirt, and our diligence heightened. If one side of the road was fenced and the other side wasn’t, we hugged the fenced side. Anyone with bad intentions would have to cross the road or climb the fence to accost us. I scanned the ground like the Border Patrol, looking for signs of recent human passage.
A truck approached from our front with a crew of roughnecks. The unsmiling driver stopped beside us. “Do you know where you are?”
We didn’t laugh the second time.
“We’re starting to figure it out,” I answered.
“You don’t need to be out here after dark,” said the driver.
They offered water, shook their heads in disbelief, and drove toward Eagle Pass.
I told Mike, “I only remember being asked that question twice in my life, and both times were today.”
The wire had been pulled down at virtually every post. It looked like half of Mexico had crawled over the fence along this road.
Menace hung in the mesquite, like a spider-web laden with morning dew.
The road was straight and dark dots were just visible in the distance. Mike said, “We have pedestrians.”
The dots moved toward us.
Border Walk details blisters, edema, dehydration, and near mortal experiences. Simultaneously, the trek’s harsh conditions were balanced by the generosity of the local populace: who provided food, housing, and all manners of assistance to a stranger in their midst.
The people of the Chihuahua Desert and lower Rio Grande valley desire the same respect and honor due every American, yet their loyalties are often misrepresented, and their voices seldom heard. Border Walk is one small remedy to this omission.
Another excerpt from Border Walk:
I stayed on the west side of 83. Three men were nailing up rafters on a new house as I passed. One of them called out, “Necesita algo de beber?”
I walked over. “No gracias. Tengo tres botellas de agua.”
Hearing my accent, he switched to English. “Do you need something to eat?”
“That is kind of you, but a man just gave me $5.00 to eat at Mar y Tierra. It was very good.”
“Will you take $20?”
“No, thanks. I can’t do that.”
Another man on top of the building said, “You should take it.”
I reconsidered. Would it be an insult to refuse the offer? “All right. But I intend to write a book about this walk. If you write your address in my journal, I will send you a book or bring you one on my book tour.”
Martin H. Maldonado pointed to an old single-wide trailer. “We have lived in that trailer for twelve years and I have finally saved enough money to build a house.”
I described the trek to them and explained, “I am over three-quarters of the way through my walk and my goal is to reach Boca Chica Beach by December 23rd.”
“When you are going out Boca Chica Boulevard you will see some oil tanks just before you reach the beach. I was on the crew that erected those tanks.”
The Latinos of the lower Rio Grande Valley were hard-working, kind, and generous. And the farther I walked, the more I wanted to tell their story.
On the two-year anniversary of the completion of my Texas Trek –December 21st, 2016, I returned to El Paso and International Mile Marker #1. This time I trekked west, through New Mexico, Arizona, and California. I continued to receive significant coverage with interviews on Fox Business News, the San Diego Tribune, and most recently, a 15-minute segment on the Jim Bohannon Show that is syndicated on 250 radio stations.
Near the end of our interview on the Jim Bohannon Show, Jim Bohannon asked me (paraphrased), “What message would you deliver to the President and our country about the border?”
The following response is from memory, so it won’t be word for word, but along these lines, “I’ve spent almost my entire life in rural America. I grew up on a farm in north Missouri and I live on a dirt road in rural Alabama. Many people from rural America feel they are disrespected or ignored by politicians from other regions of the country. The same is true of people who live along the border. There are millions of Americans who live within a few miles of the US-Mexico Border, and their perspectives and lives are generally ignored when we propose policies on securing the border. Politicians go to Roma and Nogales for photo-ops, and they don’t even bother talking to the city council or the citizens of those cities. When we propose security measures, keep these people in mind. Don’t ignore them. Consult with the people who live along the border because our security measures have enormous impacts upon their lives.”
I should have recorded the interview, so I could transcribe it word for word.
For more information, I occasionally blog at my author page, www.sweetbill.com — and for those of you who do Facebook, I have tons of photos and links through my author page at: Mark J. Hainds on Facebook
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Border Walk, you may contact me directly for signed copies through either sweetbill.com or my author page on Facebook. Border Walk is also available through Amazon.com and most large online booksellers.
Since Border Walk came out, I have been averaging about two radio interviews, newspaper interviews, and/or speaking engagements per week. I am forest technology instructor at a community college in Alabama, so I have to work distant trips into my schedule over breaks in my teaching schedule.
Thanks to Readers and Book Lovers, for the opportunity to tell you about my trek and book.
Mark J. Hainds
Here are three blurbs and a bio from the backcover of Border Walk:
The U.S.-Mexico border is one of the most politically contentious regions of North America, and potentially one of the most dangerous. Mark Hainds quit his job and set out in the fall of 2014 to walk the border between Texas and Mexico. And he did it – all 1,010 miles, mostly on his own. This is his story of that remarkable journey, replete with engaging narrative about the places, flora, fauna, and people he experienced. One finds many life lessons here.
Reed Noss, Conservation Biologist and author of many books including Forgotten Grasslands of the South.
BORDER WALK takes readers on a remarkable journey along the front lines of a misunderstood and misrepresented frontier. Check your border hype at the door and discover, as Mark Hainds does, the rich tapestry of life along our border with Mexico.
Keith Bowden, Author of The Tecate Journals: Seventy Days on the Rio Grande
Mark Hainds is a road warrior of an altogether new variety. You won’t find many books that mix observations of the local flora and fauna with drug smugglers. I’ve hiked through much of the same desolate stretches of Texas, yet Mark even had me guessing what would happen next. An entertaining read, authentic, and very hard to put down.
S. Matt Read, the Texas Perimeter Hiker
Bio: Mark J. Hainds is a published author (Year of the Pig - 2011, Univ. of Alabama Press), who worked two decades as a Research Associate (Auburn Univ. School of Forest & Wildlife Resources) and as the first employee of The Longleaf Alliance - a nonprofit promoting the restoration of longleaf pine ecosystems. Mark is the first and only person to have walked the 2,000-mile US-Mexico Border. The Texas portion of his walk is featured in the film La Frontera, which played on PBS stations across the US. Mark lives with his family in Andalusia, Alabama, where he is an instructor of Forest Technology at LBW Community College. Mark is also the owner/operator of Sweetbill’s Enterprises, producing mushrooms, smoking woods, and specialty lumber that they carry on a weekly basis to the Palafox Market in Pensacola, Florida.
First time to #1 on the Rec List. Pretty Cool! Also, edited completion date was November 24, 2017.